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A.D. 56 or 57 - about A.D. 117
CORNELIVS TACITVS was a Roman historian who lived during the First Century and early Second Century A. D. His most famous works include The Histories and The Annals of Imperial Rome. He also wrote The Agricola, much of which is now lost.
Born into a wealthy family living in Gaul or Northern Italy, Tacitus received the best education available to a Roman from a good family. Public speaking skills, oratory and debate, were considered the most important areas of study for a young man destined for a career in imperial service or senatorial office. Tacitus was a senator during the reign of Domitian and was later to fill the post of consul, the highest office open to a Roman who was not emperor. After his consulship, he was given the governorship of the large province of Anatolia (much of modern Turkey).
Tacitus hated great concentration of power in the hands of the early emperors. Though he hated imperial power and in his writings tries to paint every emperor as a corrupt despot, he hated civil war and anarchy even more. He had a particularly heavy bias against the emperor Tiberius, whom he portrayed as a sinister and cruel emperor, purging his opponents from the Senate by having them tried for treason and executed. He showed scorn for Claudius and Nero, and even his writings about Augustus contained some belittling innuendoes and snide remarks. His writing is full of tales of corruption, government scandal, and innocent people being destroyed or having their good names ruined because of the emperor’s lust for power. It was Tacitus’ belief that the emperor had so much power in his hands that no man could occupy the throne without being corrupted by that power.

Cato the Elder

234 - 149 B. C.
Marcus Porcius Cato was a wealthy Roman landowner who strongly believed in the traditional Roman Republican values and stood as a symbol for those ideals. He believed that the rural, farming life was the best and most virtuous life for a Roman citizen. He believed that the Greek culture and ways that were brought back to Rome by her conquering armies actually did more to weaken the Roman people than to strengthen the state. He also saw Carthage as a major menace to Rome and, when he was a Senator, ended every speech he made with the words "Carthage must be destroyed", regardless of what the rest of the speech was about. He even brought a huge bunch of grapes, grown in Carthagenian soil, to a meeting of the Senate in order to impress upon the rest of the senators that Carthage's great agricultural capacity posed a dangerous threat to Roman leadership in the Mediterranean. It was partly due to Cato's constant inveighing against Carthage that Rome imposed an impossible ultimatum upon the city. This led to the Third Punic War in which Carthage was burned, her inhabitants slaughtered, and even the stones from which the city was built were scattered. The Romans even symbolically sowed the earth with salt around the site of the destroyed city in effect saying that Carthage would never rise from the ashes. One hundred years later, Carthage was an important Roman town in North Africa. Cato served as quaestor, aedile, praetor, consul, and censor in the Roman government. He also served as a military general, winning major victories in Spain. He used his powers as censor to get rid of many senators whom he felt were a corrupting influence on Roman society. Cato the Elder wrote the first history of Rome that was not an epic poem. Parts of this work, the Origines, still survive but most of it is lost. He also wrote a treatise on agriculture that still survives.

Dio Cassius

A. D. c150 - 235
Dio Cassius was born in Bithynia of an old and important family. His Roman History is especially valuable to modern historians because Dio Cassius spent most of his life in public service, holding many high government offices during the reigns of Commodus, Pertinax, Septimius Severus, and Severus Alexander. He witnessed the decay of society under Elagabalus and Caracalla’s reign of terror. His insights into the workings of the Roman imperial government provide details that would not be considered important by a military man or writer of epic poetry. He was a senator from the early years of the Third Century, Consul under Elagabalus and Severus Alexander, and Governor of Pannonia under Severus Alexander. Dio Cassius wrote his history in eighty books, but only eighteen of these survive today. These eighteen cover the period from 68 B. C. to A. D. 46. Books 50 through 56, covering the death of the Republic and the reign of Augustus are available in a Penguin Classics edition translated into English.

Titus Livy

59 B. C. to A. D. 17
Titus Livy, the famous Augustan historian was born in the Northern Italian city of Padua His History of Rome was and still is one of the most popular pieces of classical literature. Much of what Livy included in his history was legend and epic drama, but this style was considered good history in Roman times. Though his history consisted of one hundred forty-two books, only thirty-five remain. Byzantine writers later paraphrased much of his work that is now lost. The first five books of Livy's History of Rome From its Foundations are available in an English translation from Penguin Classics. Livy wrote during the Age of Augustus, a time during which Rome was powerful, prosperous, and still expanding. Livy crafted a history that he thought heroic enough for the greatest empire on Earth at the time. He borrowed freely from Virgil’s Aeneid. Though Livy is not considered a serious scholar today and his history is not taken to be faultlessly accurate, reading Livy can tell us much about who the Romans were and what they thought of themselves and the rest of the world. He provides a window on the Roman soul and character of the First Century A. D.


c. A.D. 370 - 405
The Roman poet Claudian wrote during one of the most exciting yet little known periods of Roman history. Theodosius the First was the last emperor to rule both Eastern and Western halves of the empire. His sons Arcadius and Honorius were weak puppets in the hands of strong generals and government ministers. Theodosius fought a desperate battle against the forces of paganism at the River Frigidus in which both Alaric the Visigoth and the master general Flavius Stilicho led imperial troops to victory.. Most of what we know about Stilicho and the barbarian invaders of the time comes from the pen of Claudian. Claudian did not live to see Alaric invade and sack the city of Rome in A. D. 410. Claudian was born about the year 370. He may rightfully be called the last of the classical Roman poets. He wrote panegyrics, or writings filled with praise, about Flavius Stilicho and the emperor Honorius. Claudian also wrote concerning Rufinus and Eutropius, two Eastern Roman government ministers whom he absolutely detested. While Claudian had nothing but good to say concerning Stilicho and much praise for Honorius, he tried to paint the most negative picture of Rufinus and Eutropius. Even though Claudian was extremely biased, most of our history of the late Fourth and early Fifth Century Roman Empire comes from his writings. Other sources who wrote about the period either left few details or wrote much later.